Iwan Thomas speaks to Female First after taking part in a scientific study on the effects of being inactive
Iwan Thomas speaks to Female First after taking part in a scientific study on the effects of being inactive

It’s now been scientifically proven that former European, Commonwealth and World champion in sprinting, Iwan Thomas, cannot live without exercise.

And it’s not the physical aspect which affects him the most, but it’s all in his mind where the lack of exercise really takes its toll, as shown in a study he took part in, Asics’ Uplifting Minds Study.

Thomas was one of the participants in the study which deprived him of exercise for a week and the results show that not exercising leads to an increase in racing thoughts, a decrease in confidence levels and, it has the same effect on your mental health as insomnia.

The current UK 400m record holder spoke to Female First about what effects the study had on him, revealed what his first run after the experiment felt like and explained why people who are afraid of exercise shouldn’t be fearful to make that initial step.

Why did you want to take part in the study?

If I’m honest I know personally when I’m forced not to train or I’m told I have to rest I know it affects me, but I’ve never had that scientifically proven, so I’m one of those kinds of people who if I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood I’ll go training or I’ll go to the gym, it’s kind of like my happy place. I know I always feel much better when I come home.

In my previous life I was an athlete when I was injured it clearly affected my mindset because it was my career, and I was missing out on competing for Britain and so forth. But now that I just do it for pleasure I wanted to see if there was some actual science behind the mindset, what it actually means to me physically and in my mind because I know by not going to training it’s not going to massively affect me by having a week off, but I did know psychologically and mentally it definitely had an effect on me. The Asics mind study for me was just cementing that really, I just wanted to see the proof behind the science.

Talk me through what it felt like to not exercise for seven days?

I knew it was coming because I was taking part in the study, so I knew from the Monday I wasn’t able to train, so I kind of prepared myself and I thought I’d keep myself busy because for me training isn’t just a physical thing but it’s to keep my mind busy as well and also it’s just a place to go and thing about nothing, to just switch off and train.

I knew I was probably going to get a bit grumpy and a bit frustrated, but I didn’t actually think it would have that much of an effect, but it was also looking back it had a huge effect on my mindset, there was a 43% reduction in my State of Mind score, so I knew it affected me, but I didn’t know it was going to affect me that much.

I slowly got a little bit more grumpy and a little bit more of itchy feet really, like something I love doing has been taken away from me and it’s my routine as well, for example I know on a Tuesday night in the gym it’ll be upper body bench press and I felt like I was missing out, it was another week until I can go to the gym and see the guys again. It definitely had an effect on me, and I was itching to get back to training, which I knew I would.

"What I take away from it is it’s confirmed to me that I’m not crazy, I know by not training it does actually affect me..."

Did the overall results shock you, as there was a 20% decrease in confidence levels and 23% increase in racing thoughts across the board, or did you expect that?

I did kind of expect that to happen but because there’s never been a study I didn’t know the percentages or the actual figures, but for me the most shocking thing was the day that we actually went to see the doctor and see our results on a screen and there was a visual which was fascinating and it showed our state of mind during the week of training and my picture inside my mind looked quite tranquil, it was peaceful, it was nice shapes.

And as soon as it was taken away it was like a thunderstorm, it was all over the place and that’s how I felt inside. So, it was really good to see the visual effect of how I was feeling. I think we all had the same results, so it just proves that exercise is good for your mindset, it really is.

Would you say the biggest lesson you learned then is that exercise and mental health is so strongly linked?

Yeah, but some people to be fair might relax by reading a book or watching a film or switching off and doing something else, but for me personally and what I saw personally exercise is a fantastic way of controlling your mind and to stay stable, and I know that personally from not training in the past I knew how grumpy I can get when not training.

What I take away from it is it’s confirmed to me that I’m not crazy, I know by not training it does actually affect me, so it’s quite nice to actually see it’s not just me being a grumpy old git because I’m not allowed to go for a run, there is a science behind the fact that my body needs to exercise. And perhaps for me because it’s been a way of my life for all of my life for as long as I can remember sport and exercise have been so important.

As I’m getting older now it just makes me realise that I may not be able to train as hard or maybe as often, but I need to maintain some exercise in my life and as I say it’s not just good for my legs but it’s good for my mind which is really important.

The Asics Uplifting Minds Study proved Iwan Thomas cannot live without exercise
The Asics Uplifting Minds Study proved Iwan Thomas cannot live without exercise

How did that first run feel after the week off?

It just felt like a big release, because I hadn’t been able to do it I was really looking forward to it, so before if you take two or three days off you’re like yeah I need to go training again, but this was like oh my God I need to countdown the days until I can exercise and it was just so nice to be able to do something that is such a natural part of my life.

"Do exercise, it’s not only good for you physically but it’s brilliant for your mind."

Do you have any messages you’d like to give after completing the study and experiencing what you felt without exercise?

What I would say and I’m sure a lot of your readers will agree on this is a lot of people fear exercise and I come across a lot of people who say, oh I couldn’t go to your gym, they’re really fit people. But nobody judges you and take something like Parkrun at a weekend, there’s all different shapes and sizes who take part in that.

So, I think for those people who don’t exercise because they fear they might be judged or they’re not going to be as fit as everyone else, no one is going to judge you. I think it’s a big happy family and definitely as this study has shown you’re going to feel better for doing it. I think sometimes half the battle is opening that front door and taking that leap of faith, stepping outside and going for a walk or a run.

But all I’d say for those people is just do it, even if it’s just twice a week you extend your walk with the dog to an hour instead of half an hour or you go for a little five minute jog, nobody is going to judge you, nobody really cares how fit you are or not – it will get better and you’ll definitely, definitely improve your mindset.

If you are having a stressful day, we all have stress in our life, it’s just the modern world we live in, go and do some exercise and the beauty is there’s so many different sports out there so you don’t have to think oh I’ve got to on a rowing machine, I’ve got to go running or I’ve got to go and play football, there’s so many different things to do. And remember a lot of exercise doesn’t even feel like you’re doing exercise, kids on a skateboard, they don’t realise they’re getting really fit by doing that or out on their BMX bikes or whatever it might be.

Do exercise, it’s not only good for you physically but it’s brilliant for your mind.

Written by Lucy Roberts, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.

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